Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County

Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
Founded January 1, 1979
Headquarters 1900 Main St. Lee P. Brown Administration Building
Downtown Houston, Texas
Locale Houston (Texas, USA)
Service area Harris County
Service type Bus Service, Light Rail, Paratransit Services, Express Lanes
Routes 75 local bus routes
32 commuter bus routes
3 light rail lines
Stops 9,100[1]
Destinations Downtown Houston
Uptown Houston
Memorial City
Energy Corridor
Texas Medical Center
Johnson Space Center
University of Houston
Texas Southern University
Rice University
University of Houston–Downtown
University of St. Thomas
Houston Baptist University
Houston Community College
Lone Star College
San Jacinto College
Bush Intercontinental Airport
Hobby Airport
NRG Park
Greenspoint Mall
Houston Galleria
West Oaks Mall
Sharpstown Mall
Gulfgate Mall
Memorial City Mall
Willowbrook Mall
Northline Mall
Baybrook Mall
Northwest Mall
Almeda Mall
Hubs 20 transit centers
27 park and rides
Stations 39 (light rail)
12 (bus rapid transit)
Fleet 1,250+ (bus)
37 (light rail)
140+ (paratransit)[1]
Annual ridership 80,540,307[2]
Fuel type Diesel, CNG, Diesel-electric hybrid
Operator METRO
Website http://www.ridemetro.orgbeauty power

The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (often referred to as METRO) is a major public transportation agency based in Houston, Texas, United States. It operates bus, light rail, bus rapid transit, and paratransit service (under the name METROLift) in the city as well as most of Harris County. METRO also operates bus service to two cities in Fort Bend County. The METRO headquarters are in the Lee P. Brown Administration Building in Downtown Houston.


Louisiana Place (now Total Plaza), the previous METRO headquarters

The Texas State Legislature authorized the creation of local transit authorities in 1973. In 1978, Houston-area voters created METRO and approved a one-cent sales tax to support its operations. METRO opened for business in January 1979, taking over the bus service owned by the City of Houston known as HouTran. HouTran was plagued by outdated equipment, infrequent service, and a route structure which failed to account for Houston's rapid population growth.[3]

METRO's service area encompasses 1,285 square miles (3,330 km2)[1] and also serves portions of an eight-county region with its vanpool service; the agency employs about 3,800 people.[3]

Executive leadership

Tom Lambert is the current President and CEO of the agency. Shirley DeLibero served as President and CEO of METRO from 1999 until 2004. DeLibero was recruited to METRO by then-mayor Lee Brown, and was previously executive director of New Jersey Transit.[4][5] Her tenure was marked by the introduction of the METRORail light rail transit system and passing of the 2003 light rail expansion plan referendum.

DeLibero retired in the spring of 2004 and was replaced by Frank Wilson, a 30-year transit executive who had been president of AECOM Enterprises, a Los Angeles-based engineering consulting firm; Wilson had also previously been general manager of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) in Northern California and was the Commissioner of Transportation for the State of New Jersey. Wilson arrived as the mayoral administration of Bill White replaced that of the term-limited Brown. In May 2010, Wilson signed a deal to terminate his employment as METRO president and chief executive officer.

George Greanias, a former city councilman and city controller, was named chief executive by the majority of the METRO board appointed by Mayor Annise Parker, even though he had no transit experience. Parker made the need for new leadership at METRO a key platform of her campaign, saying the leadership had damaged the agency's relationship with the community.[6]


New Hybrid Bus in Houston METRO livery by Motor Coach Industries D4500CTH
A METRO bus driving through the University of Houston campus on Cullen Boulevard
Bellaire Transit Center in the City of Bellaire
METRO bus for routes with low ridership.

METRO has a very expansive, and heavily used bus system. Local bus service usually runs on city streets, stopping at every other corner along its entire route. METRO's bus service is the most used bus system in Texas and the Southwest. METRO's bus service also includes the HOV/Park and Ride system. Park and Ride stations are placed alongside the freeways and used heavily during peak times.

Prior to the construction of METRORail, METRO consisted of the largest all-bus fleet in the United States, only because Houston was the largest major city devoid of any rail transit since 1990.

In 2015, the bus system was redesigned, eliminating low-ridership routes in favor of a high-frequency, high-demand bus network. This change was accomplished without any increase in operating costs.[7]

Service types

Note: The Express and Park and Ride were once under the Commuter Routes umbrella until they gained their own distinctive non-stop service designations in 2004. As of 2010, aside from routes #170, 212, and 261, the routes are organized in corridors, but are now all listed as Park & Ride (Commuter) Service.[8]


METRO's bus routes are numbered according to a system. On August 24, 2015 METRO had developed and revamped their entire bus network with new routes and frequent service.[10] Under the New Bus Network (NBN) All Local Routes run 7 Days a week with the Exception of the 108 Veterans Memorial Express and the 151 West Park Express. For Example The Old 68 Brays Bayou Crosstown between Third Ward and The Texas Medical Center didn't have very much frequent service, so METRO designed Route 4 Beechnut to extend the Third Ward Segment of the Old 68 Route which provides service every 10 Minutes during the peak Hours and 15 Minutes every other time. Another added benefit is METRO'S Heavily used 82 Westheimer Road. During The rush hour commute, this route runs every 8 Minutes due to the heavily use of the line.[11] During the New Bus Network some passengers complained that the 82 is over packed resulting in People waiting for the next bus or standing room only. As of January 24, 2016[12] This route will Be increased in frequency from every 8 Minutes to every 6 minutes to improve reliability

METRO provides the free Greenlink shuttle services in Downtown Houston, represented by routes 412 and 413.

METRO's express and commuter buses consist of 45-foot (14 m) MCI and New Flyer "Viking" buses, which have reclining seats, small individual lights, as well as small air conditioning vents for each seat.Viking Buses went out of service as of May 2015


Current Fleet

Transit centers

Park and Ride lots

METRO operates 28 different Park and Ride locations.[13] The buses used for these are built like Greyhound buses and are very comfortable for the rider. The Park and Ride locations are:

Katy Corridor

Southwest Corridor

Northwest Corridor

Northeast Corridor

North Corridor

South Corridor

Gulf Corridor

East Corridor

Westpark Corridor

US 90 Corridor

SH 249 Corridor

West Loop Corridor

Texas Medical Center Corridor

Park and Ride expansion

There are plans for future park and ride stations throughout the Houston Metropolitan Area. These locations are said to be:

Advertising policy

METRO has had a policy since its founding in which it refuses to place advertisements on buses, claiming that such a move would create an unsightly appearance on the buses. METRO had originally attempted to generate extra revenue by only advertising in its bus shelters, but a city ordinance blocked the decision. After a failed attempt to get permission to partially use advertisements on buses, METRO has since decided to continue enforcing its policy.[19]

Due to the lack of funding for METRORail expansion, the policy has been proposed to be expanded to light rail vehicles in order to generate additional revenue.[20] METRO began advertising the Houston Zoo on the side of three light rail vehicles in 2010.[21] In late September 2010, due to the decreased budget, METRO began to seriously consider advertising on their buses.


In the fall of 2006, METRO revealed plans to rework its fare system. The new system involves pre-paid fare cards (contactless smart cards), called Q Cards, that can be recharged on local buses and Metro TVMs. Transfers will be electronically added to the card each time it is used. Frequent users get "Rider Rewards" that offer five free rides for every 50 paid trips. (Similar smart cards are being used on transit systems nationwide, including those in Atlanta (GA), Boston, Chicago, Jacksonville (FL), Los Angeles, Miami (FL), Milwaukee (WI), New York City, Philadelphia (PA), San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Tucson, and Washington, DC.)

Senior citizens 65–69 will continue to receive a discounted rate as will disabled patrons. Senior citizens over 70 may ride for free. Children under 5 also ride for free when accompanied by an adult (limit 3). This was intended to keep the base fare low and phase out the previous fare system consisting of transfers (was reinstated from July 2015 to March 2016), as well as day (reinstated on 7 Oct. 2013), weekly, monthly, and annual passes, which occurred in early 2008. On November 2, 2008, local fares increased to $1.25 from $1. Currently another fare increase is being mulled as a means to pay for constructing the expansion of the light rail.[20]

Service Type Regular Discounted
Local $1.25 $0.60
Zone 1 $2 $1
Zone 2 $3.25 $1.60
Zone 3 $3.75 $1.85
Zone 4 $4.50 $2.25
Day Pass (began 7 Oct. 2013)[22] $3 $1.50

HOV system

METRO has been known for pioneering the use of express buses in HOV lanes. This was part of the reversible HOV lane concept that began in 1979 with the completion of the North Freeway (I-45) Contraflow Lane. This concept used the inside freeway lane of the "opposite" direction separated by traffic pylons and is closed to all vehicles except buses and vanpools. Although a head-on collision involving a car and a bus occurred in 1980, the concept became permanent, but with the HOV lanes separated from the rest of traffic with concrete barriers.

The HOV lanes run between Downtown Houston (inbound A.M. and outbound P.M.) and the suburbs and are found on portions of the Katy Freeway, Gulf Freeway, North Freeway, Southwest Freeway, Eastex Freeway, and Northwest Freeway.

Since METRO Express buses use them during rush hour, most routes lead to the Park and Ride lots and use "secret" HOV lane exits (often elevated T-intersections) that lead to the lots (also used by vehicles as well) without having to exit the freeway to street intersections. The HOV system will soon get an overhaul in the event of major freeway construction to take place in Houston and may have HOV lanes in both directions with the concept of HOT (Toll) lanes introduced.

In 2011, METRO began conversion of the HOV lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. Commuters with only one person in a vehicle will be able to pay a toll to use the lanes when the conversion is complete.


A typical METRO Lift vehicle

METRO Lift provides transportation needs for people with a disability, who cannot board, or ride from a regular METRO bus. The METRO Lift vehicles are shared-ride, meaning that they take multiple customers and groups. METRO tells its customers to use standard METRO bus services whenever possible. METRO Lift uses special vehicles that are distinct from fixed-route METRO buses.[23]


Main article: METRORail

METRO's light rail service is known as METRORail.

METRO offers a trip planner on its web site that provides information for public transit in the region it serves. It is multi-modal, combining schedule information for buses and rail. Riders enter their intended origin and destination, along with optional time, date, and other information, and the trip planner displays itineraries showing the stops, departure and arrival times, and times to get from the origin to the destination.

Today, the average daily weekday ridership is 34,600. Notable records in ridership have occurred on the following dates:[24]

On November 9, 2007, METRO surpassed its 40 million boardings mark, something it did not expect to happen until 2020.

METRORail lines

The Red Line along Main Street

METRO currently operates three light rail lines: the Red Line, Purple Line, and Green Line. Two other lines were to be completed by 2012, but funding issues dropped the number to the northern extension of the Red Line and two of the original four new lines.[25][26] The extension of the Red Line was opened on 21 December 2013[27] and the East End/Green Line opened on 23 May 2015.[28] Due to federal investigations and the lack of funds, the plans may degenerate further.[29] Three of the five lines were previously going to be bus-rapid transit, but due to high ridership possibilities, the decision was made to make them all light rail.

METRO's first light rail line is the 12.8-mile (20.6 km) light rail line located in Houston, Texas, United States. It is the second major light rail service in Texas following the DART system. The arrival of METRO light rail comes approximately sixty years after the previous streetcar system was shut down, which left Houston as the largest city in the United States without a rail system (since 1990 when the Blue Line opened in Los Angeles).


Additional rail will be laid as approved by a 52% yes to 48% no margin in the November 2003 election. Critics have alleged the existence of a conflict of interest in the planned expansion. Major contractors including Siemens AG, which constructs the train vehicles, contributed substantial amounts of money to the Political Action Committee promoting the expansion referendum. Supporters of an expanded rail system in Houston have leveled similar charges against opponents of the referendum, noting that suburban development interests largely bankrolled the PAC opposing the referendum.

In June 2005, METRO announced a revised plan for expansion of the METRORail system. The plan included four new corridors, consisting of both light rail and bus rapid transit. The bus rapid transit lines would have later been converted into light rail when ridership warranted the conversion.

On October 18, 2007, the plan was revised to allow for the possibility of more federal funding. METRO decided to go ahead and have all the lines consist of light rail from the start.[30]

The planned expansions are within the city of Houston and will eventually reach the two major Houston airports, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport. METRO is planning service to suburbs in Houston, as well as other parts of Houston. Alternatives Analysis and Draft Environmental Impact Analysis studies are currently underway on four extensions.

METRO is also planning a commuter rail system in conjunction with the light rail system, pending feasibility of the plan. In addition, METRO wants to link up with a planned Commuter Rail line traveling from Fort Bend County to just south of Reliant Stadium, which would use an existing Union Pacific railroad, as well as an additional line branching out along the U.S. Highway 290 corridor to Hempstead, TX, and possibly further. A recent entrance by the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District may make the 290 corridor and the Galveston corridor possible by 2012, again pending feasibility.[31][32] While heavy rail would not be a possibility to serve Fort Bend County, recent approval has been given to study an extension of the Red Line to Fort Bend from the Fannin South Station.[33] Furthermore, Representative Gene Greene has issued a statement regarding a preliminary acquisition of funds for Houston projects, amongst them one million dollars to move forward and extend the Red Line south to Missouri City.[34]

The passed voter referendum included:[35]

The following lines and services were planned to be up and running by 2012, but various circumstances have changed the overall timing. According to a statement by Annise Parker, Houston's mayor, both the University Line and the Uptown Line would be delayed until a future date when funding could be secured.[25][36] According to construction details from the GO METRORail website, construction was moving slowly.[37] Further delays to the construction were also a possibility pending the FTA investigation METRO (which began in April 2010) for possible "Buy America" violations by building new prototype cars in Spain.[29] Another obstacle surfaced in August 2010 when METRO officially announced that it had fallen short $49 million on its budget, but insisted that the current dates for completion (Red Line Extension by 2013 and East End/Green Line by 2015) would not be affected.[38] However, such was not the case, after the decision handed down by the FTA on September 8, 2010, that stated that METRO was in violation of "Buy America" rules - after talking with the board, on September 9, 2010, all progress for the three light rail lines under construction was to be slowed and a new (generic) date of 2014 was set.[39]

The current plans to date are as follows:

Countering the bad news regarding METRO's light rail expansion, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed bills allotting $150 million to the Red Line Extension and Southeast/Green Line light rail projects for fiscal year 2011. Added to the previous $150 million allotted fiscal year 2010, the total amount given to these projects is $300 million.[52] However, according to the FTA, this will not be available to METRO unless they rebid the contract to build the new light rail cars. In light of this, METRO decided to build light rail only according to the funds they have while waiting to see if they will receive federal funds. Thus in late September 2010 METRO only came up with a figure of $143 million in funds available for construction.[53]

METRO Solutions

METRO Solutions is a large transportation and infrastructure plan that will be complete by 2020. METRO Solutions includes the following from METRO's website:

METRO Police

METRO Police automobile

METRO operates its own police department. With over 185 Texas peace officers and 88 non-sworn, civilian employees, the department's main goal is to ensure safety and security on the transit system. The department was established in 1982, and is accredited with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), one of only five public transit police departments in North America to be so.[57]

State law grants METRO Police jurisdiction in the counties in which METRO is located, provides services, or is supported by a general sales and use tax.[58] As peace officers, state law also grants METRO Police the power to arrest without warrant for any felony, breach of the peace, disorderly conduct or intoxication offense that is committed in their presence or view while in Texas.[59] They may also make an arrest pursuant to a warrant anywhere in Texas.[60]


See also: Total Plaza
Lee P. Brown Administration Building, the headquarters, in Downtown Houston

The METRO headquarters are in the Lee P. Brown Administration Building in Downtown Houston.[61] The $41 million 14 story glass and steel building has over 400,000 square feet (37,000 m2) of space. The facility includes the Downtown Transit Center, a METRO Ride store, a Houston Police Department storefront, and toilets for transiting passengers.[62] The building was designed by Pierce Goodwin Alexander & Linville.[63] As of August 2010, two floors of the building are not occupied and are not used in any way.[64]

The building was scheduled to open in early 2004, coinciding with the beginning of the METRORail. The groundbreaking was held in 2002. Patti Muck, a spokesperson for METRO, said that the agency would save $273 million, assuming that the agency occupied the building for a 30-year span instead of renting for the same length of time.[62] The Federal Transit Administration,[63] a part of the federal government of the United States, paid 80% of the construction costs,[62] while METRO paid the other 20%.[63]

The “Houston in Harmony” mural[65] l in honor of Mayor Lee P Brown was commissioned by the Honey Brown Hope Foundation and its founder, Tammie Lang Campbell, in 1999. It was moved March 23, 2005 to the Lee P. Brown Metropolitan Transit Authority Administration Building, where it is on permanent display.

Previously the METRO headquarters were in the Louisiana Place (now the Total Plaza[66]), also in Downtown Houston.[67][68] The agency occupied 10 floors in the building and did not receive any federal funds to cover the $3.8 million annual rent.[62] The METRO Board Room was located on the 16th floor.[69] Total Petrochemicals USA, a subsidiary of Total S.A., moved into the space that was previously occupied by METRO; the agency scheduled its move into the Brown building to occur in January 2005.[70] METRO's lease of 193,000 square feet (17,900 m2) of space expired in April 2005.[63]

Ridership and driver demographics

A 1995 survey concluded that 76% of people riding on local METRO bus lines took the buses because they had no other means of transportation. A 1993 survey concluded that of the people who had stopped riding local bus routes of METRO, 46% had acquired or repaired automobiles. 37% of the respondents said that METRO could not possibly do anything to convince them to ride the buses again. As of 1997 11 percent of METRO drivers were Hispanic. Around that time many residents who lacked a strong command of English feared taking METRO routes, believing that the METRO drivers would not be likely to understand them.[71]

Member cities

The METRO member cities include:[61]
Core city

Other cities

In addition the agency serves many unincorporated areas.[61]

See also


  1. 1 2 3
  3. 1 2 Chronology of Metro's attempts to develop a rail system FRI 03/29/1991 Houston Chronicle, Section A, Page 24, 2 STAR Edition
  4. Kelley, Chris (1996) "Shirley DeLibero", The Dallas Morning News, September 15, 1996
  5. Kannapell, Andrea (1998) "IN PERSON; She Doesn't Make Trains Run on Time", New York Times, November 8, 1998, retrieved 2010-01-30
  6. Metro CEO leaving with extensive benefits - Houston Chronicle. (2010-05-07). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  7. Yglesias, Matthew (February 18, 2015). "Houston just dramatically improved its mass transit system without spending a dime". Vox. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 METRO Bus Schedules. Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  9. "METRO Bus Schedules". Retrieved 2016-01-18.
  10. "NewBusNetwork". Retrieved 2016-01-18.
  11. Adams, Devonne (2015-08-24). "82 Westheimer 8/24/2015" (PDF). Old Bus Schudle. Houston Metro.
  12. "82 Westheimer" (PDF). Houston Metro. 2016-01-18.
  14. Popular METRO park and ride lot gets major expansion | (2010-07-12). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  15. Metro announces location of new Pearland Park and Ride | Houston. (2010-07-09). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  16. Proposed Pearland Park and Ride site falls through | (2010-08-04). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  17. "Metro buys land for new Pearland Park & Ride". December 5, 2011.
  18. Connelly, Richard. "Metro: No Ads On Buses, Despite (Or Because Of) Tough Economic Times." Houston Press. Tuesday July 20, 2010. Retrieved on August 10, 2010.
  19. 1 2 Fare increases an option as Metro looks at rail funding - Houston Chronicle. (2010-07-21). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  20. Metro breaks tradition with Zoo ads featured on trains | Houston. (2010-08-06). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  21. Day pass returning for Metro riders - Houston Chronicle. (2013-03-28). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  22. "METRO Lift." Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas.
  23. "METRORail riding sets record - Houston Business Journal:". Archived from the original on June 14, 2008.
  24. 1 2 Houston Mayor Annise Parker wants to put brakes on University and Uptown rail lines | (2010-03-11). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  25. Rick Casey: Metro can't let rail jeopardize its buses - Houston Chronicle. (2010-03-11). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  26. Rail puts Fulton Corridor on the verge of a boom - Houston Chronicle. (2010-05-31). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  27. METRO's East End Light Rail Corridor construction project reaches major milestone | (2010-04-16). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  28. 1 2 Metro cancels real estate contract, then rehires firm - Houston Chronicle. (2010-07-23). Retrieved on 2013-08-15.
  29. Sallee, Rad. "METRO WILL USE LIGHT RAIL FOR 5 FUTURE LINES / Board nixes less popular bus rapid transit and picks route on Richmond." Houston Chronicle. Friday October 19, 2007. A1. Retrieved on May 24, 2009.
  30. "Intermodality".
  31. "Officials seek fixes to vexing freight traffic". Houston Chronicle.
  32. "Metro inches ahead on Fort Bend rail". Houston Chronicle.
  33. "New Rep. Gene Green Announces Funding for Local Projects".
  34. University Corridor Project development Process and Public Input opportunities
  35. "Mayor says two Metro rail lines are in doubt". Houston Chronicle.
  37. "Metro announces $49M budget shortfall". KHOU. 19 August 2010.
  40. "East End Line Landing Page".
  42. "Southeast Line/Purple Line Landing Page".
  44. "University Line/Blue Line Landing Page".
  45. "".
  47. "".
  49. "Intermodality".
  50. Paul Knight. "Metro Ponders Galleria Real Estate, And Why The Uptown District Can't Deliver On its $70 Million Promise". Houston Press.
  51. "Rail News - Senate committee allocates $150 million for Houston METRO light-rail projects. For Railroad Career Professionals". Progressive Railroading.
  52. "Metro board approves budget, prepares for new colleague". Houston Chronicle.
  53. "Business calendar". Houston Chronicle.
  55. "Federal Register - Preparation of Environmental Impact Statement for Transit Improvements in the US 90A/Southwest Rail Corridor in Metropolitan Houston, TX".
  60. 1 2 3 "A Comprehensive Look at the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Houston, Texas Archived May 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.." Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas. Retrieved on April 5, 2010. "Headquarters Lee P. Brown METRO Administration Building 1900 Main St. Houston, Texas 77002"
  61. 1 2 3 4 Sallee, Rad. "Metro touting future savings from building." Houston Chronicle. Wednesday August 21, 2002. A25. Retrieved on April 5, 2010.
  62. 1 2 3 4 Sarnoff, Nancy. "Metro gets rolling on downtown transit center." Houston Business Journal. Friday January 4, 2002. Retrieved on April 5, 2010.
  63. Knight, Paul. "George Greanias Lays The Groundwork For Metro's Tough Upcoming Budget Decisions." Houston Press. Tuesday August 31, 2010. Retrieved on August 31, 2010.
  64. "Fort Bend group lauds former Houston mayor for public service". Houston Chronicle.
  65. "Total Plaza." Brookfield Properties. Retrieved on April 5, 2010.
  66. "Contacting METRO." Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas. March 4, 2001. Retrieved on April 5, 2010.
  67. Dawson, Jennifer. "Hilcorp increases downtown presence." Houston Business Journal. Thursday June 22, 2006. Retrieved on April 5, 2010.
  68. Sallee, Rad. "Metro digs up $65 million for rail / Project to go without federal funds." Houston Chronicle. Wednesday October 25, 2000. A1. Retrieved on April 5, 2010.
  69. Dawson, Jennifer. "ATOFINA to move from Greenspoint to downtown." Houston Business Journal. Monday July 19, 2004. Retrieved on April 5, 2010.
  70. Feldstein, Dan and Claudia Kolker. "Carless in Houston/Going carless/View is different from the slow lane." Houston Chronicle. June 15, 1997. Retrieved on August 8, 2011.
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